You went to college after high school because, well, that’s what you do and everyone else did it.
You took out student loans to pay your way through school because, well, that’s what you do and everyone else did it.
You went to school, got your degree, and just started your adult life. It’s just that now you have $100,000 in student loan debts and a low paying job.
What do you do? Here are five ideas.
Control current living expenses.
The first thing to do is get control of your current living expenses. The only way to make sure your debt doesn’t grow any faster is to immediately stop acquiring debt.
Calculate your net or true take-home pay per month. This is what you receive after you pay your taxes and benefits.
Then, calculate your total monthly living expenses, including minimum student loan payments, car expenses, entertainment, rent, and every other monthly expense you have.
If your monthly living expenses exceed your take-home pay, you must cut your monthly living expenses, increase your monthly income (more below) or a combination of the two.
It may feel like a cold reality, but you’ll do yourself no favors by overspending what you bring home from month-to-month.
If this means you must continue living at home or find more roommates to lower your rent, then do so. If you must switch from a premium phone company to a discount service company, such as Republic Wireless or Cricket Wireless, do it sooner rather than later.
Look for as many ways as possible to lower your living expenses. Just as every little calorie counts, so does every little cent as you work to get your student loans under control.
Pro tip: Apps such as Mint and Personal Capital can help you manage your budget all from your phone that’s now on a discount service plan.
Increase your income.
This is a two-part step.
First, increase your W-2 income. W-2 income is the income you earn from working for someone else and not contract employment. Because you currently have a low paying job, it’s in your best interest to increase this income.
Tell your current boss that you need to increase your income. Work with your boss to come up with mutually agreed-upon performance expectations to increase your pay in a specified period of time. This time is commonly relegated to your annual performance review, but some companies have more flexibility.
Then, work your butt off to exceed your agreed-upon expectations. Document every success. Save every email with even an ounce of praise. When you have your next performance review, sell yourself so hard it’s impossible for your boss to not give you a raise.
In the meantime, look for other, higher-paying jobs both within your current company and outside if only to improve your interview skills. If you find a higher paying job, use your improved performance and skills to sell yourself for a higher income.
Pro Tip: You can respectfully decline to answer questions about your current pay, but to decline to answer questions successfully you must do so impressively.
Something like, “Thank you for that question, however, I’m going to decline to answer that. I’m focused on the value that I can provide you going forward with my current skills and knowledge. This is different from what I was capable of when I was hired for my last job.”
The second part to increase your income is to make money outside of your primary job. Yes, this means getting a second or even a third job. While that’s painful, it’s not unheard of. Many people have several jobs until they get on their feet. I had multiple jobs at once, myself.
Pro Tip: You don’t have to increase your income with more W-2 jobs. You, too, can become your own boss.
Become your own boss.
I’m amazed by the opportunities of today’s gig economy.
Bloggers and YouTube stars you’ve never heard of are making millions of dollars a year. Peripheral workers, such as social media experts and virtual assistance, are springing up to help those bloggers and YouTube stars — and are making sustainable incomes of their own.
Could you be the next million-dollar internet guru or billion-dollar app creator?
Possible, but not probable.
What is possible is that you could create a nice income for yourself to supplement the income from your W-2 and better tackle your student loans. It’s even possible that you could create enough income from being your own boss that you don’t need a W-2.
Pro Tip: This strategy is playing the long game. An overnight success actually takes years to accomplish. While there are lots of winners in the gig economy, most of them won because they persisted.
Avoid more debt.
Not unlike controlling your living expenses, avoid adding more debt to your portfolio of debt.
Avoid taking on a mortgage, a car loan, if possible, more student loans, loans for a cell phone or furniture, payday loans, or any other opportunity to finance an improved lifestyle. Debt is debt.
The less you take on until your student loan balance is paid off, the better.
Pro Tip: The possibility of increasing your income by earning another undergraduate or graduate degree is enticing. Many employers will pay for some or all an employee’s additional education. Before going back to school, see if your employer will help pay your way. If not, consider bouncing to another employer who will.
Refinance your student loans.
Under certain conditions, you can refinance both federal and private student loans and there are several banks and other businesses to help you.
If approved, you could lower your interest rate, lower your monthly payments, or lower both your interest rate and monthly payments.
Each year, you can apply for an income-based repayment plan. There’s no fee to apply and if you qualify for one of four different kinds of repayment plans, it may help you meet month-to-month expenses until the following year.
Understand the fine print of your income-based repayment plan. For example, if you’re married, you may have to file taxes separately from your spouse. There’s also the possibility that your remaining balance will be forgiven in 20 to 25 years.
This hasn’t happened for anyone yet and there’s the possibility that you’ll receive a tax bill for any amount forgiven, which could be expensive. (Public Service Loan Forgiveness happens sooner, and doesn’t come with a tax bill.)
Pro Tip: Simply lowering your monthly payment will likely mean that you’ll pay more money over the life of your loan. Put as much money that you free up from lowering your monthly payment towards your highest interest debt to pay your debt off more quickly.
The best way to improve a bad situation is to have an improvement plan.
This five-point plan should get you headed in the right direction. As you proceed, tweak as necessary to continue heading in the direction of paying your student loans off and increasing your income fast.
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